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Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing In A Pandemic

Gareth Cartman

I have a habit of being a little flippant in these blogs. Take an analogy, stretch it, make a point and hammer it home relentlessly in a series of pithy sub-headlines. Yes, I have a process for this kind of thing, and just like everything else right now, I need to change tack.

I don’t need to say that these are extraordinary times. And extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. We aren’t just dealing with a virus, we’re potentially dealing with the worst financial depression since the Great Depression.

And you thought Brexit was bad…

As marketers, as business owners, what we decide to do now will stick with us. Now is the time to reassess, and to prepare for the return to normality – whether that’s in 2, 3 or 6 months’ time. It feels wrong to say that this is an opportunity, especially as buying demand dries up, but when this passes, we all really need to be in the best possible position.

Let’s take an honest look at the marketplace, and what we can all do about it.

Buyers aren’t buying, but they’re still online

So far, this is our experience – people are still making searches and they’re still looking albeit in smaller numbers, but they’re obviously not making ‘luxury’ purchases, and what we define as luxury is shifting. Non-essential purchases are generally off the table for at least a few months.

The natural first step is to reduce ad spend, and this is common sense. If your conversion rates have dipped, strip ad accounts back to whatever is converting – usually brand keywords. If you’re looking for savings right now, they’ll be found here.

The shift in user behaviour is from buy-now transactional searches to social media. Literally from Google to Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and – whisper it – LinkedIn.

What to do:

  • Use video to talk directly to your communities on social media
  • Increase your social output and make it helpfuland useful
  • Offer live Q&A sessions or webinars
  • Develop a YouTube marketing strategy: parents of schoolchildren undoubtedly know all about PE with Joe Wicks at 9am every morning - over 1 million live visitors and 3 million later in the day.

Reposition your offer, quickly

Brewdog surprised everyone by announcing that they had switched from making beer to hand sanitiser – and that they were giving it away free of charge. 

It’s this kind of lateral thinking that brands are going to need over the next couple of months. Not everyone can switch from brewing beer to hand sanitiser – and then afford to give it away for free, but think about what you can offer people free of charge or at a reduced rate while they’re at home, online. 

You’ll stay front-of-mind and earn some goodwill from potential future customers.

This may be virtual tours, virtual learning, free access to research or archives. 

What to do

  • Look at what you can offer free of charge or at low cost
  • Potentially transform services to online, e.g. remote consultancy instead of face-to-face

Stay on top of changing trends

Searches for ‘virtual learning’, as suggested above, have gone through the roof, reaching their peak in the last week. So long as there are training budgets, there will be training – and even if budgets are cut, training of some sort is required. Employees who are now at home can still earn CPD points, for instance.

Your keyword landscape may have shifted massively over the last couple of weeks, and is going to shift further. What people were searching for last month is different from what people are searching for now.

What to do

  • Look at your search console data to see how search impressions are moving, and whether there are new keywords appearing in the last week
  • Use Google Trends to discover trending keywords in your sector. The breakout keywords section is particularly useful.
  • Adapt existing content or create new content to fit with these keywords.

Comms, Customer Service and Logistics Are Your Brand

How damaging is it that Sports Direct have tried to convince / con everyone that their employees are key workers? If ever you thought negatively of a brand, this might be the time. While everyone else is pulling together, Sports Direct are pulling in the other direction.

This is a delicate time. Inconsiderate communications, customer service or logistics will reflect badly on you, and it’s worth taking the time to plan how you’re going to put messages out.

What to do

  • Assess your communication channels - where are your customers right now? Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin?
  • Review your tone of voice guidelines. Do you have guidelines for crisis management?
  • Set KPIs for responding to customer queries and complaints - how long should it take? Do you ‘take it offline’?
  • If your logistics are about to be affected, let people know before anything happens.

Be human, and be natural. I’ve seen some businesses visibly forcing employees to write cookie-cutter social posts about how compassionate and wonderful their senior leadership team have been, and how humbled they are to work for such a caring company.

This isn’t natural in the slightest, and will work against your brand.

Plan Ahead

Remember that content marketing strategy that never quite got off the ground as your technical team didn’t have the time to provide their input? Or sourcing that digital agency? <wink>

Among all the problems the virus has caused, there is one gift, and that is time. The short-term, quick ROI campaigns might have to take a back seat, but those longer-burn efforts that require serious planning and hard work are ideal right now. Analyse your website for opportunities that you’ve been missing out on so that you’re in a better position come summer and autumn when (hopefully) we’ll be in the clear. 

Go back to search console to assess which keywords are bottom of page 1 that could quickly turn into top 3 positions in a few months’ time, with a bit of elbow grease.

Audit your content and pinpoint any gaps in your proposition. Create that editorial calendar and source copywriters if you need any. There are plenty of experienced writers out there on websites such as Copify, which give you access to a bank of writers with specialist skills.

If now is a good time to be doing anything, it’s making sure than when this passes, you’re in a good position to take advantage of an upturn.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay well, and stay ahead of the game.